One of my favorite eras in history to learn about is the Victorian Era. The fashion and decor were undoubtably one of the most stunning, iconic stylistic eras, while their culture and society was messy at best. What better way to dive into the culture then to view a magazine published at the time- The Ladies’ World from December 1896.
First, I just want to share a little bit of background on The Ladies’ World Magazine (sometimes referred to as The Lady’s World). It was created in 1886 by Cassell & Co. in New York to capitalize on the growing popularity of women’s magazines targeted towards middle class ladies. It originally focused on fashion, trends and fictional stories. Later, towards the turn of the century, the name was changed to Women’s World to reflect the newer movements of women’s education and empowerment, and therefore the content was expanded from not just fashion but to now pieces that reflect how women “think and feel” (Source).
In its day, the magazine had some famous writers and editors, including Oscar Wilde, L. Frank Baum and the Queen of Romania. In 1912, it was sold to McClure publishings, which changed its format from black and white newspaper to glossy and colorful. By June of 1918, it would cease publishing, remembered now in its remaining copies, over 120 years later (Source).
I really enjoy this issue. Being published in December of 1896, a good portion of the magazine focuses on Christmas- holiday ideas, recipes, stories and gift ideas for the whole family that can be shopped right from the magazine. I believe a lot of the gift ideas have transcended time and are still given today as gifts, such as purses, jewelry, dolls, fancy pens, etc.
With the awesome details in mind, it is also important to note the problematic content, by todays standards. As always, remember “vintage style not vintage values”! There is a well-known ad for Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix, with racist imagery, along with others, such as a hand soap ad that states “Cuticura Soap makes soft white hands”. There is also a handful of other harmful ads, like many for curing “Fat People”, or arsenic for beauty use.
Overall, this issue of The Ladies’ World Magazine from December 1896 is a great look into what life was like for a typical middle-class, Victorian-era woman in America. It really highlights the similarities and differences between today and yesterday in our culture.